December 18, Advent 18, Luke 18- Justice, the Faith of Children, the Fulfillment of the Prophets

Suffer-Children-Come-Unto-Me-Urruchi

Read Luke 18

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8 (ESV)

It’s easy in today’s world to be cynical and to give up, especially when we face disappointment, broken promises and the effects of the failures of broken systems every day.  Often we have to call and complain about poor service or wrong pricing or other issues in the course of doing business and going about our lives.  The squeaky wheel does in fact get the grease.  The more that the widow pestered the judge, she wore out his patience. It was easier for him to just give her what she wanted instead of enduring the constant pestering.

God is not like the unjust judge or the customer service department at the cable company. We don’t have to pester or threaten Him. He knows our prayers before we pray them.  He arranges for our provision in ways we need and that are best for us-  even when we don’t know our needs well enough to bring those needs to God in prayer.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

Martin Luther taught that we are all beggars before God: The phrase, “Wir sind pettler, hoc est verum” (We are beggars, this is true) is said to be his last words.  The apostle James teaches us that if we break one little tiny bit of God’s Law we are guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10)

Faith is not just knowing that we are beggars, but also trusting in  the One Who took our sins to the cross to forgive our sins and to cover us with His righteousness and goodness.

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18:15-17 (ESV)

Children find it easier to trust than adults.  We become cynical and jaded, but Jesus calls us to trust Him.  Even when the news is bad, the road is hard, and there seems to be no hope, Jesus is there with us, walking with us through our trials.  He wants us to bring children to Him from the very beginning, so that they will learn to cling to Him from the very beginning.  This is why we bring infants to the baptismal font, to the means of grace that God makes available for us, regardless of our age or stage of life.

Jesus, seeing that he (the rich young ruler) had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:24-30 (ESV)

The rich young ruler had fooled himself into thinking that he had obeyed the Law all his life.  Unfortunately it is not possible for anyone to do that.  If we could earn or buy our way to eternal life, why would the Son of God need to suffer and die to deliver us from the eternal consequences of our sins?

It is true that there is no buying or earning our way into eternal life.  Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6)

The disciples still hadn’t quite gotten what it was that Jesus came to do, even though He tells them again that He must die, and that He will rise from the dead as the prophets foretold.

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Luke 18:31-34 (ESV)

The blind beggar on the road to Jericho cried out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus did have mercy on him, and restored his sight.

And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. Luke 18:39-43 (ESV)

Lord, we confess that we are beggars- blind, flawed and unable to believe in You, save by your gift of faith and the means of grace You give us in baptism, Holy Communion and in hearing the Word of God preached to us.  We pray that You would heal us, forgive us and give us our sight so that we may see you and that we would patiently and faithfully await Your glorious return.

June 20, 2019- The Absolute Truth- John 18:33-38, John 14:6

jesus-before-pilate

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”  Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:33-38 (ESV)

Jesus said to him, (the apostle Thomas) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (ESV)

Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” may or may not have been asked in a sarcastic or snarky tone.  Pilate was a product of a largely permissive culture that embraced multiple gods and belief systems- similar to our culture today.  Our culture also has a real problem with absolutes.

How many times have we heard in the media or from others, “You have your truth, I have mine.”   The implication in that statement is that truth is subjective,  but for truth to be true, it must remain absolute.

Either Jesus is the King of the Jews, the inheritor of the throne of David, the Son of God, Emmanuel, God in human flesh, the Savior of the world, or He is not who He says He is.

There is no middle ground with Jesus, no gray area.  As Jesus tells Thomas- who is sometimes reviled as being “Doubting Thomas-” No one comes to the Father except through Me. 

Thomas was actually wise to ask Jesus questions and to demand proofs of Him.  Faith must have a valid object.  We have faith that the highway bridge over the river is going to hold up because it is built with steel and concrete and it was engineered by people who understand what it takes to build a bridge that will stand up to weather and time and tons of vehicles driving over it.  Faith would be sorely misplaced if one were to have faith that it’s possible to float a car across a river on a pool float.

God has given us the inspired Word of Scripture so that we can be like Thomas and find the proofs of Jesus’ truth.  There is nothing wrong with having an informed faith.

So what is truth? The truth is found in Jesus, and in the faith in Him passed down to us in the Scriptures.  The Apostle’s Creed is a synopsis of the Christian faith which is derived from the Scriptures:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

May 24, 2019- All Roads May Lead to Rome, but Enter Through the Narrow Door- Luke 13:22-30, John 6:50-69, John 14:1-7

 

Rome map with its Great Ringroad.

narrow door

He (Jesus) went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.  And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’  Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.  And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.  And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:22-30 (ESV)

There is a saying that, “All roads lead to Rome.” It comes from the historical fact that during the time of the Roman Empire all roads did eventually lead back to Rome.  Rome was the central hub. The roads going to and from it branched out like the spokes of a wheel.  If you wandered around long enough eventually you would come back to Rome, so it didn’t really matter which road you took. The ultimate destination remained the same.

The same axiom does not apply to eternal life with God. There are many religions and systems and philosophical paths that one can follow that promise salvation or spiritual enlightenment.  There are a number of books written and seminars given that promise that elusive goal of “self actualization” (the pinnacle of the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) or what Joel Osteen might refer to as “your best life now.”  Yet none of these man-made systems and philosophies or to-do lists can save us from our fallen condition.  We are born dead in trespasses and sins, (see Ephesians 2) and nothing we can do can change that.

When many of Jesus’ followers departed from Him because they couldn’t accept Him as the Bread from Heaven, Jesus asked Simon Peter if he was going to leave Jesus too, to which Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:50-69)

Jesus is the Narrow Door. This isn’t a popular truth in our culture.  It’s not politically correct to say that salvation is found in Christ alone, but it is biblically correct.

(Jesus said:)“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)

Believe in the One True God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every other religion has a list of things to do to earn points or travel a certain path.  Only Jesus says to us, faith alone.  Jesus says to us, “I AM preparing a place FOR YOU.  I AM the way, the truth and the life.” Faith too, is a gift from God. There is no other way, no other truth, and life cannot be found anywhere else.

Grace is a gift that is not earned, but given. Grace alone means that it is by the grace of God alone- nothing we can do, earn or deserve, that we come to saving and enduring faith.  Whenever God’s Word is spoken and taught, the Holy Spirit works in human hearts.  Mercy and grace flow from God to and through us, all as a gift from Him.

May we enter through the Narrow Door. May we follow Jesus in the way of the cross, knowing that life is found in Him alone.

July 31, 2018- The Bread King or the Bread of Life? John 6:22-40

fresh bread

On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.  So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”  Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  John 6:22-40 (ESV)

What must we do? Everything in the natural world has a catch. The most basic premise of psychology is that human beings have to have a reason to do things.  We have to have a motivation. Do we look at Jesus as a celestial Santa Claus, who will give us what we want right now, or as the God of the Universe, who has our forever-life in mind?

Many of Jesus’ early followers were after a bread king- someone who would provide them with food for their bellies. Bread for the belly is important, but the bread from heaven is far better and far more than just a meal for a day. Even so, how often do we trade the peace and solace found in Jesus for incessant worry about how we are going to get by?

Jesus points out that it was God who rained down manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) – the people of Israel did nothing to earn or deserve it.  All they had to do was pick it up.

The bread from heaven- the bread of life– as Jesus refers to Himself, is free to those who simply believe that Jesus is who He says He is.  We spend our lives so worried about our temporal needs and what we need to do to meet them, while the very bread of life has already been given for us, to break the curse of sin and to sustain us in forever-life with God.

Even our faith is a gift from God, as we cannot come to faith of our own accord. This doctrine is explained in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord.  Our faith is derived from God doing the acting on us.

We learn from Jesus Himself: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 (ESV)

Jesus doesn’t require us to do anything. We come as we are- crude, dirty, flawed and broken. Sometimes we are brought to Him screaming and protesting, yet we are drawn to Him- in the waters of baptism, in the words of the Gospel (Romans 10:17) and in the Body and Blood of Christ given for us in Holy Communion.

God provides the bread. Just as the manna fell in the wilderness, we are given Jesus Himself- the bread of life. There is no catch. To be doing the works of God is to trust Jesus, to know that He is the one Way, Truth and Life. This is the faith by which God transforms us, the power of God that makes us “good trees” from which good fruit will come.

If we are to bring forth good works that are truly God’s will and from God, we can only do that by God’s grace and transforming power.

We are reminded to remember our baptism daily so we do not forget that God has named us and claimed us and made us His own. We need to stay immersed in the Scriptures, where we hear the words of the Gospel, which are the very voice of God. In Holy Communion we get a foretaste of the kingdom to come, a taste of the heavenly manna, and we are reminded that we are part of the body of Christ. We are also reminded when we come together for worship that we belong to God, and that He serves us with His great gifts.  God provides.